THE TOWN Hall bar might be an unlikely venue for viewing fine art but under Margaret Nolan’s canny stewardship it has hosted a succession of superb shows. Next week sees the opening of the venue’s latest exhibition, a series of Achill landscapes by ex-computer boffin, ex-accountancy student, ex-clothing retailer, and ex-rock musician, Padraig McCaul, a Dubliner who has made his home on the Mayo island.
On The Edge Of The Atlantic features 25 new paintings inspired by the beauty of the landscape and coastline of Ireland's west coast. McCaul presents the Irish landscape in a series of colour filled, evocotive, images, where broad strokes are preferred to fine detail and where simple, uncluttered, compositions allow room for the viewer to get lost in the painting. This is his first solo exhibiton in Galway.
“I came quite late to painting,” Padraig, erstwhile member of The Harvest Ministers tells me. “My interest was always in music, I studied music in Maynooth as part of an arts degree and for the next 20 years music was my main passion with the band. It’s only in the last 15 years that I started delving into painting, it was almost a substitute for when once the band stopped taking it very seriously, we weren’t playing nearly as often as we had been, I took up the brush and began painting.”
McCaul was much enamoured by landscape painting from France; “I love French painting, artists like Cezanne, I love the colours French artists used,” he admits. “When I started painting I was looking for colourful landscapes, that’s what I was drawn to for some reason and I was into Italian and French paintings. When I started painting Irish landscapes I began bringing in all the colours that I would expect to see in French and Italian landscapes. Then you realise over time that the colours are there anyway in the Irish landscape. For whatever reason a lot of Irish artists seem reticent about putting those strong colours into their paintings in the way you would see them in European paintings.”
Notwithstanding his love of French and Italian painting, Padraig also sees himself within the tradition of the many great Irish artists who have depicted Achill and the west: “I see myself very much as coming from the tradition of Paul Henry and Roderic O’Conor.” he says. “There are elements in my paintings where I can see a direct influence from the likes of them, the colours, the strength. I don’t see vibrancy in a lot of Irish landscapes, sometimes they are almost too true to life. I use primary colours, blues and reds and crimsons, to elicit emotion. They are not just there to describe the landscape, I’m using them to stir an emotional response.
“My paintings are based on the Irish landscape but what I am really trying to get across is the feeling of it,” he continues. “I can paint a mountain 10 times and every time will be different, that’s not what matters, it’s how you convey the movement and the energy and the light around it.
"You are creating more than just the image of a mountain, you’re creating what it feels like to be standing in a field looking at it when it is rainy or windy or warm, it is all those extra feelings that have nothing to do with the visual, that is what the painting should be about. You bring a viewer into a painting, the image is what draws them initially but there is more, you can get to the root of different feelings. The strong colours you see in continental paintings I use as a way of stirring that emotive response, they are not just there because the colours work well together.”
Padraig expands on his connection to Achill: “I got stuck in Achill in a good way. When I first started painting I thought this is great I can travel and go anywhere, but when I came to Achill for the first time it stopped me in my tracks. It has everything that a landscape artist would want, there is the sea, the mountains, the rolling bog, and the sky and the light that changes every hour of the day.
"There is no reason to go beyond it, there is so much here to inspire painting. Because I live here now, I take the light and the atmosphere and everything about it is replicated all the way down the west to west Cork. If you can capture the atmosphere of Achill in a painting that really captures the atmosphere of all of the west of Ireland.”
McCaul is represented by the Doorway Gallery in Dublin and his paintings are in many international collections; “From the first time I started exhibiting I seemed to get a really good reaction from people who felt a connection to the paintings," he says. “I have been doing painting for 10 years and always had a very strong response to the work and that subsequently translated into sales and galleries. I have been working with the same gallery for the last 10 years in Dublin, also another five or six regional galleries around the country. Thankfully the response has been really strong throughout that time even with the recession I have managed to go against the tide, people liked my work which has been great.”
How did he connect with Margaret Nolan for this Town Hall show? “I first connected with Margaret via Facebook, it is great!” he replies with a laugh. “I knew Margaret years ago when I was coming out of college in Maynooth she was in NCAD. We hadn’t touched base in years and then Facebook is a way of reconnecting with people and through that she told me she was running shows in the Town Hall, she asked me last year to contribute to exhibiting in windows for Cúirt, and those paintings got a great response and she invited me to do a show in the Town Hall, so it is a lovely way of getting my work seen in Galway, it is my first time having a show there.”
And what about The Harvest Ministers? “We put out an anthology two years ago and played a couple of shows around that and that put a full stop after my name with the band. Will has continued writing and recording under the Harvest Ministers' name ,but the band as we were, the last appearance of the full band was 15 years ago.
"I’d put the sax and guitar away but I brought the sax out again to play with the Mayo Concert Orchestra which was incredible for me to find and that allows me to get back into playing music again, I’ve been playing with them for the past two years and I play some local sessions here in Achill.”
On The Edge of The Atlantic opens on Friday March 11 at the Town Hall bar. Padraig also runs an annual series of painting workshops on Achill Island between May and August.